by Elaine Paterson
May 26-June 2, 1993
From rapists to terrorists, Sean Bean has made the deadly dangerous
attractive. Now he's using his rough charm in Ken Russell's "Lady
Elaine Paterson finds out more.
Crossing the road is a man who makes women go weak at the knees,
but the way he
looks today he could be selling the Big Issue. No heads turn
as Sean Bean
shambles into the modest Muswell Hill hotel where he held his
four years ago. He flops on a settee. His hair's greasy, his
jeans grey, jumper two-tone Acrilan (beige and brown). He's shy
polite: laughs often, sometimes to show he doesn't take himself
sometimes just to be nice. He's as accommodating as his north
of England reserve
will allow; but the words come out tentatively, muffled like
an old cat's purr.
This is not a sex symbol.
On-screen, Bean has an unnerving raw masculinity of the type
tells us women really want. It was called 'animal magentism'
in the days before
aftershave and it lurks dangerously around the most inappropriate
rapists (Clarissa), wife-beaters (Wedded), obsessive boyfriends
(Tell Me That
You Love Me), the visceral IRA terrorist he played in Patriot
Games, the rugged
rifleman Sharpe in the Napoleonic two-parter on ITV. Bean has
compassion for the
bastards he portrays.
'They're just ordinary people who find themselves in unusual
situations, or with
problems, you know, or facing some kind of conflict," he
says in his lilting
Yorkshire accent. "I do question myself sometimes, but not
too much because you
can get into a terrible mess by wondering why a character is
It's got to come from somewhere else. There's got to be something
character that you sympathise with and that you like."
He never analyses what he does, works on instinct, and has a
ability to fuse with a character. Julie Burchill recalls watching
him read for
the lead in her BBC drama Prince, based on her dad.
"He came in and he was so slightly built and northern that
I thought, 'He's
never going to become my Dad', because my Dad was a burly West
says Burchill, "and then he started to read and it was my
Dad. It was so eerie."
This charming man is cast as a brute in boots again in Ken Russell's
Lady Chatterley as Mellors, the gamekeeper whose unbuttered tango
with the lady
of the manor (played here by Joely Richardson) caused Lawrence's
novel to be
banned until 1960. Leslie Halliwell summarised the plot as: 'wife
of a crippled
and impotent mine owner has an affair with a coarse gamekeeper
and enjoys it,'
and Russell's cloth cap as loin cloth approach is in keeping
dramatic efforts (on the basis of the first two episodes anyway),
but Bean sees
Mellors as "basically an intelligent, sensitive man: he
can be hurt." His
intuitive performance rescues lines like: "We come off together
that time," from
the ignominy of Russell's high camp.
He has the ability to contemporise period drama: no costume can
vandal's swagger and rock-star sneer. Bob Bierman, who directed
him as the
ravishing rake in Richardson's Clarissa, says, "There's
something of the gutter
about Sean." Bean laughs uproariously.
"I think you're stuck with your class," he says. "I'm
from a working-class
background and I suppose now I'm living a kind of middle-class
existence. But I
try to bring that working-class attitude to the parts I do because
it's a harder
outlook and it's more reflective of what society is today."
Sean Bean grew up on a Sheffield housing estate and stumbled
into acting more by
accident than design. An undistinguished academic career led
dalliances with the cheese counter at Tesco's and his dad's welding
one of three art schools he attended lured him into a drama club.
There was no
previous drive to act. His family had no truck with theatre,
weren't big cinema-
goers. Loved Sheffield United.
"I suppose I always wanted to do something different,"
Bean considers. "Not go
along with the flow, you know, with everybody else. I went to
see things like
The Godfather when that first came out. I was only young, about
15 or 16, and
I'd go along with a pinstripe suit on and a black shirt and a
white silk tie. I
didn't want to be an actor then, but I suppose I was acting.
I think it takes a
long time for it to click and you think, 'Oh hold on, I've been
doing that all
me life, why don't I do it professionally and get some money
He doesn't recognise a contradiction between his shyness and
his desire to act.
"If I didn't have it [acting] I don't know what I'd be doing.
I might be getting
into trouble. Know what I mean?" He confesses, sheepishly,
to having a temper.
"I don't jump off at every little thing, but if I go off,
I go off. I really
can't stop then. I used to be worse, but you get a bit milder
as you get older.
I don't like to lose my temper, but I have to get it out of me
There's an aura of rehabilitation about Bean, although he doesn't
own up to
anything worse than a few schoolboy scrapes. He spoke once, in
an interview with
the Mail on Sunday, about an ABH (Actual Bodily Harm) charge,
the result of a
skirmish while at RADA, but hunched over his cigarette, talking
to his trainers
in a tight knot of contrition, you sense Bean feels he's paid
his dues. Now it
all goes into acting. "You've got to go for it 100 per cent.
going to look stupid." He tends to trust directors, even
when they're known
eccentrics like Ken Russell and require him to chase Lady Chatterley
woods buff naked.
"It was the first time I'd run through a wood with nothing
on with another
woman. We had these massive speakers in the wood blasting out
and there were rain machines spraying quite hot, warm rain, and
lights, so it was quite exciting. Yeah, quite a nice feeling,
Nudity doesn't worry him. Unlike some of his contemporaries -
middle class Tim
Roth with his cultivated sarf London accent or Gary Oldman with
his hobo fashion
sense - Bean feels no need to prove that his street cred or his
untarnished by his esoteric profession.
"I usually keep fit," he says, slightly put out by
my expression of surprise.
"I'd like to get to a gym a bit more. I usually end up going
about three times
and then I get fed up." Three times a week? "No, just
three times." He laughs
and lets his fingers soak up a fresh coating of nicotine.
Since The Field (by My Left Foot director Jim Sheridan) and the
Patriot Games, Bean has looked like the new Brit most likely
to break Hollywood.
Accents aren't a problem. There have been offers, but Bean has
selection process. He turned down a new Disney film because it
clashed with A
Woman's Guide to Adultery and the chance to work with wiry Scottish
actor/director David Hayman. "He's straight down the line,
he doesn't mess
about." Like Bean. He'd work in Hollywood if the right project
came up but
believes "we do the best work" and anyway, his diary
is full. He's off for a
medical after this interview to see how he shapes up for Shopping,
a film about
ramraiding by a new British director.
Success for Sean Bean means a three-bedroomed house in Muswell
Hill where he
lives with his wife Melanie (the second Aveline in Bread), two
and a Jaguar Sovereign for ease of driving up and down to Sheffield
to see his
team play. He's not flash with his money. It doesn't go down
well where he comes
from: "You might get a clout." In case he should ever
be in danger of forgetting
where he's from, it's tattooed on his arm.
"It was when Sheffield United had won promotion to the Premier
remembers with pride. "I went down with me mate, Farquhar
he's called, big lad,
and he had Sheffield United done and I had 100% BLADES. It took
minutes and it come to four quid. I said: "I'll get yours
in then," to him. I've
never regretted it."